Bishop Ronald Hicks: Service to orphans changed his life

By By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Thursday, September 6, 2018

Bishop Hicks: Service to orphans changed his life

Bishop-elect Ronald Hicks is to be ordained Sept 17, 2018
Bishop Ronald Hicks accepts flowers during the offertory at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Brighton Park on May 13, 2016. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Hicks’ first birthday portrait. (Photo provided)
Hicks opens a present as a teenager. (Photo provided)

The day that the Holy See announced that it was appointing three new auxiliary bishops for Chicago, no one was able to get a comment from Bishop Ronald Hicks.

He was in Spain, on a 30-day Ignatian silent retreat.

“I had that retreat booked for nine months,” Hicks said, noting that it wasn’t set up to avoid attention after his appointment was announced.

In fact, part of his plan was to discern what to say if he did get the call to become a bishop. He had been serving as vicar general — a post that has been filled by an auxiliary bishop in the past — for more than two years, and people in the archdiocese were expecting new bishops to be appointed soon so that Bishops George Rassas and Francis Kane could retire as they  had turned 75.

“It was a surprise that the call came then,” said Hicks, 51, who was traveling to Iowa with his family for a graduation party when he received the call from Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States. “I thought there would be more time.”

In the end, Hicks said, he had to give the nuncio an answer before the retreat, but he already knew what that answer would be.

“My discernment was that I really want to do the will of God,” Hicks said. “How I was asked — I felt this was God’s will. My position, not only in this, but in life, is that when God is asking me to do something, I want to look for ways to say yes.”

Hicks grew up in South Holland, the elder of his parents’ two sons. He began considering whether he had a call to the priesthood when he was a student at St. Jude the Apostle School in South Holland.

Father John Boivin, then the associate pastor there, invited him to participate in a weeklong summer program at Quigley South between sixth and seventh grade.

“It was a weeklong program, but all it took was one day for him to come home and say, ‘That’s where I want to go to high school,’” said Roselee Hicks, his mother.

Hicks returned for the same program after his seventh-grade year and enrolled at Quigley South for high school, despite some misgivings on his mother’s part.

“I didn’t want him going that far for school every day,” she said. “But his father said to let him go.”

Roselee Hicks said she was Lutheran when she married, and remained Lutheran until 22 years ago, despite being an active school and parish volunteer at St. Jude. She thinks that perhaps the family’s openness to talking about religion had something to do with her son’s willingness to consider the priesthood.

Roselee Hicks said both her sons were told to keep an open mind and heart about their priesthood during their years at Quigley South, and both did.

“At the end of Ronny’s four years, he still wasn’t sure in his mind that he was called to the priesthood,” she said. 

Whatever it was, Hicks said he “hit the jackpot” when it came to parents as he discerned his vocation because they were always supportive but never pushed either way.

Hicks said the formation at Quigley South was exemplary, with an emphasis on prayer and good works,  and on growing holistically: physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.

“It was very balanced,” he said. “And diversity wasn’t just tolerated. It was celebrated there.”

Perhaps because of the formation at Quigley South, a fair number of students — perhaps 30, Hicks said — from his graduating class of 1985 went on to St. Joseph College Seminary. That was where Hicks would meet Bishop Robert Casey. They were neighbors in the dorm, Hicks said.

“It was a natural progression if I wanted to continue to discern priesthood,” Hicks said. “It allowed me to do that.”

When he graduated, he said, he did not immediately enter the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary.

“I knew that I felt called to the priesthood,” he said. “And I knew that if I was going to be a priest here, in the Archdiocese of Chicago, I needed to learn Spanish. So I said, before I enter the major seminary, I want to learn Spanish.”

Father Robert McLaughlin, then the rector of Niles College, connected Hicks to Father Philip Cleary, a priest from the Archdiocese of Chicago who was leading an orphanage for Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos in Mexico. “He not only encouraged me, he really pushed me,” Hicks said.

Hicks spent a year there, living with and caring for the children. It turned out to be a year that changed his life.

“Working with and being in solidarity with the poor — and also seeing people dedicated to this mission from the church — shows how we are all part of God’s family, and we all walk together,” Hicks said.

Cleary and Father William Wasson, the priest who founded Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos, “were examples of priests who were spiritual fathers,” Hicks said. “They loved the children, and they loved the people they served. They inspired me, and it showed me that this was a life worth living.”

When Hicks’ year was over, he returned to Chicago and enrolled in Mundelein Seminary, once again meeting up with Bishop Robert Casey, who also took a year between Niles College and Mundelein to further discern his vocation. Bishop-elect Mark Bartosic was also part of Mundelein’s ordination class of 1994.

One of his classmates, Father David Boettner, is now the vicar general of the Diocese of Knoxville, Tennessee. Boettner, who is close to both Casey and Hicks, will serve as Hicks’ chaplain for the episcopal ordination.

He said he and Hicks bonded over their eclectic music collections.

“Mine had a little more of a Southern twang to it,” Boettner said.

Hicks was, and still is, popular with his classmates, Boettner said.

“Father Ron — people gravitate toward him. He always seemed to maintain friendships for a long time,” he said.

Hicks said that, for his part, he was committed to the priesthood when he entered Mundelein.

“I walked in very sure of that call,” Hicks said. “The diaconate, the priesthood ordinations, those were manifestations of that call that started a long time ago. When we were ordained to the priesthood, people tell me I was smiling, and I just couldn’t stop.”

After ordination, Hicks served as associate pastor at Our Lady of Mercy Parish for two years and at St. Elizabeth Seton Parish, Orland Hills, for three years. From 1999 to 2005, he lived and ministered at St. Joseph College Seminary — as the archdiocesan college seminary is now known — at Loyola University Chicago as the dean of formation.

In 2005, Hicks received permission to move to El Salvador and return to Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos, this time as regional director for the organization’s Central American homes. Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos cares for 3,400 orphans in nine countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Over the years, the whole Hicks family became involved with Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos. 

“We became part of that family too,” Roselee Hicks said, noting that she and her husband were able to visit every year in El Salvador. “They took such good care of him there.”

When his five-year term ended, Hicks returned to seminary formation, this time as dean of formation at Mundelein. During his time there, he celebrated weekend Masses at St. Jerome Parish in Rogers Park.

Cardinal Cupich appointed him vicar general for the archdiocese on Jan. 1, 2015. It’s a post he will continue to hold after his ordination as a bishop. Since becoming vicar general, he has made a practice of celebrating Mass in a different parish every weekend.”

Bishop Hicks knows that the day after his ordination as a bishop, he will wake up in the same bed in the same rectory, and walk to work in the same office. He will have time, he said, to learn about being a bishop.

“I really want to grow in having a pastoral heart,” he said. “I want to truly make sure I am not separated from the people, but with them.”
He said he has enjoyed all of his different ministries.

“Continuing to be a man of prayer and listening to the voice of God, that’s been my focus in parish work, seminary formation and education, work in Central America and work as vicar general,” Hicks said. “But people who know me know I have a missionary heart.”

Photo: Stuart-Rodgers Photography


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